Time to end the quick fix

THE ramifications of the quick fix approach with which the last government was too closely associated will be felt for many years to come. On few issues can this be as acutely felt as on drug addiction, where the number of people in Yorkshire who have been left "parked" on methadone has hit shocking levels. It has created a legacy of social, financial and medical problems and a miserable lifestyle for thousands of individuals.

There are areas of immense poverty and social disengagement here but that is also true of many other parts of England. Deprivation alone does not account for the fact that Yorkshire has nearly double the number of people stuck on methadone for more than three years than most other regions of the country. Primary care trusts have some difficult questions to answer about why long-term methadone use is so prevalent but the failure to develop an effective drugs policy owes more to the attitude of Ministers in the former government.

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Despite records sums of money being spent on the NHS, improvement was piecemeal, as Tony Blair came to recognise towards the end of his time in office. Cuts in hospital waiting lists improved the quality of people's lives but came at the expense of solving problems which earned fewer headlines, like drug addiction and reform of the system for funding elderly care.

Methadone is a necessary part of tackling dependency on heroin but, as any addiction worker could explain, it was never intended to be used indefinitely. There must be incentives and, where appropriate, sanctions to get people off drugs. These must be part of a regime of more general medical, psychological and social support which is not afraid to challenge the lifestyle problems which can contribute to drug use.

The coalition Government is constantly being told that a particular problem should be its priority. Cutting drug misuse would, however, make a widespread difference to society, particularly in the towns and cities where dependency is rife. Addiction costs vast amounts of money for the NHS, courts, prisons and the system of residential rehabilitation at a time when public money is in short supply. Methadone use is not an end in itself and should not become long-term. It is time to end the political quick fix.